Handling Quick Company Growth with Evan Hopkins

Should CX Pros Forget About the Numbers and Focus on Behavior? with Justin Robbins

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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Evan Hopkins from Outdoorsy to learn about how he kept his company stable during massive, unexpected growth. Listen to the full podcast below to learn more about Evan and his CX expertise.

Unifying Your Departments

Having years of experience in CX, Evan finds that the best way to handle large-scale company growth is to make sure that all departments are aligned on the brand mission. Leaders who try to solve problems on their own sometimes end up failing because they approach these problems with a one-sided perspective. “What you don’t want to do is try to solve it on an island. You have limited resources, you need everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction.” To do this, Evan suggests meeting with members of different departments on a frequent enough basis that leaders are all aware of what’s going on in the CX-scape. This could be as simple as a weekly update, or a quick huddle to make sure that everyone’s in tune with their customer’s needs. For instance, bringing in leaders from legal, finance, sales, or marketing can give a valuable, fresh perspective to how the customer interacts with the company on different levels, “Otherwise you just have the same people, the same ideas, and you don’t progress.”

How to Gain Executive Backing

Getting executives and members of the C-Suite onboard with CX is no easy task. Many leaders who approach these members struggle to get their approval because they don’t use data to their advantage. Data’s such a huge player in the customer game because it’s the key to understanding their needs from an unbiased perspective. Once you can add palpable value to your data, it’s ready to face the C-Suite because let’s face it – money talks.

Building relationships with other departments and executives can be a game-changer for CX leaders. Start with introducing yourself and finding ways that you can integrate a customer mindset into the different aspects of the business. Once these relationships start developing, it’s much easier to ask for help and to get executives excited about what you’re doing with your team.

Hiring the Right People for the Job

Of course, every manager wants to have a team of dedicated people working with them to increase revenue and overall customer satisfaction, but how exactly do leaders spot the right talent in a pool of hopeful candidates, especially when your company’s booming? Dealing with a huge uptick in applicants, Evan’s team found great success by implementing an automated chatbot that answered any questions they might have. Another strategy used by Evan’s team is a predictive index that understands how applicants communicate and pinpoints their communication styles. These two things then streamline good candidates to the hiring manager, making their job much easier and saving the company time and money.

Once hired, the next step is to train people in a way that prioritizes all of the important aspects first, leaving smaller, minute details for later. Evan explains how important it is to have good documentation during the hiring and training process while business is growing because it helps leaders to stay on the same page and agents to stay efficient – keeping customers happy in the long run.

“Do you want a team member to have to search through all their notes from training to be able to answer a question or do you want them to have it integrated into their CRM where answers pop up as they type questions in chat?”

To learn more about how to manage company growth like a pro and Evan’s work at Outdoorsy, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Tomorrow’s Customer Experience Starts Here with Brad Birnbaum

TRANSCRIPT
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody to today’s show. We have a special guest, Evan Hopkins, who’s currently the VP of Global Sales and Customer Operations at Outdoorsy. Hey man, I appreciate you joining. How are you?

Evan Hopkins: (00:25)
Doing very good. Thanks for having me.

Gabe Larsen: (00:27)
Yeah, I stumbled on the Outdoorsy for some reason there. I apologize. So before we jump in, I often like to just get to know the guests just a little bit. So I’d love to ask one outside of work question, anything you’re passionate about, hobbies, passionate pastimes, that you’d like to share with the audience today?

Evan Hopkins: (00:50)
I think, first one that comes to mind is I like to tinker on things. I think that came from my dad. So I got a motorcycle that I’m always adding and removing things from all the way to remote control cars. I built one from scratch this year during COVID. I needed things to do to.

Gabe Larsen: (01:07)
To keep yourself busy.

Evan Hopkins: (01:09)
Totally. Yeah. So anything I can kind of tinker with. Electronics, things along those lines, are always interesting to me.

Gabe Larsen: (01:15)
I love it. And then tell us a little bit about what you do over at Outdoorsy. What’s kind of going on over there and your role?

Evan Hopkins: (01:21)
Yeah, Outdoorsy. So it’s been really fun to be part of this marketplace for a number of years, but of course the last two years it’s been incredibly busy with people wanting to get outside and our views are really safe way to do it and travel over the last couple of years. So my role there at Outdoorsy is to help us to make sure that we look after the customers and bring new customers on board to list their vehicles so that we have lots and lots of hosts on there so that when people want to come and go on a trip, there are lots of choices. I have team members and we’re operating in Europe and Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US. So I have team members around the world, which is for me, one of the funniest parts of the role, just understanding different cultures and seeing how we can apply similar things, but how you got to tweak it in different places. So that’s my day-to-day, is how do we do a great job for our customers and how do we bring more onboard?

Gabe Larsen: (02:14)
Well, that is quite spread out. I didn’t realize actually you were kind of dabbling in all those different countries. I am amazed. I have not done it myself, but my sister and brother-in-law, are currently doing kind of this like RV, I don’t know what they’re calling it, but RV life. They do. They just have this cool RV and they go to these, I think what used to be maybe like, not as ready RV parks. The RV parks I used to visit maybe 20 years ago, were like, WiFi-enabled and all ready for people to work remotely, but he sent me some pictures and he’s like, man, there are some of these RV parks that you can legitimately, it’s not designed for remote working. But I mean, basically, it works really well. He’s got his two screens in the RV. I’m like this works. I think people are obviously pulling it off. And hopefully, you guys are the beneficiary of that.

Evan Hopkins: (03:10)
We are definitely seeing that over the last few years. My family and I, we’ve been on a few trips. We always get the RV delivered to make it a little bit easier. We’ve got dogs and kids and all that. So we have them deliver like a 40 foot, big trailer for us, and the last one we did, we had them put it right beside a river at like you said, one of those RV parks, and they had great WiFi. So I worked a few hours a day and watched my kids have fun on the river and then I joined in as soon as I was out of all these Zoom meetings.

Gabe Larsen: (03:41)
Yeah, that is one of the cool things about, I mean, you guys, you can actually deliver the stuff. You can deliver it to a specific place and that is game-changing for those of us who don’t have an RV or you make it so easy. So we’ll talk about that more at the end. So let’s get back to the topic and I wanted to talk a little bit about how you guys have kind of transformed and figured out this scaling around customer operations, et cetera. So wanted to start big picture. How have you thought about handling this growth, this sudden sustained increase in volume? How has that kind of work for you guys and what are some of the ways you’ve operated around it?

Evan Hopkins: (04:20)
Well, I think probably like most people, the first part is very painful because if you knew that it was going to happen, you would have started hiring way in advance and you would have done many things differently. But every once in a while, you’re in a position where things change rapidly and you have to scale. So I’ve had some experience where things in my past have really bad system implementations by other parts of the organization, caused tons of phone calls coming into a telco, at an airline. I was a similar sort of things with system changes. So I’ve kind of gone through it a few times and a few basic learnings for me. The first thing is we really want to make sure that you share what’s going on across the organization, right? You want to make sure that everyone understands here’s what’s happening. We think this is why it’s happening. Sometimes you know exactly why it’s happening. Sometimes you might not. But you actually want to get everyone involved. And I say that of course your own organization, probably the customer service group or whatever part you’re in, but also the leadership team, you want to make sure that your peers in marketing, technology, et cetera, everyone’s aware because what you don’t want to do is try to solve it on an island. You have limited resources, you need everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction. So you start to think about having the daily huddles, making sure that there’s good information going out and on a regular basis. So that was my first learning is don’t try to do it on your own, make sure everyone’s aware of what’s going on and keep information flowing.

Gabe Larsen: (05:46)
Well, one quick follow-up on that, because I’ve definitely heard that often, but people struggle to get some of the, you mentioned some other functional areas like marketing, for example. Is there ways you’ve failed to just get those like kind of last all in? Is it just be open, good communication, or any secrets you’ve failed to make sure that you get those partners in and part of your team rather than kind of fighting against them?

Evan Hopkins: (06:09)
Yeah. I think like many things, you want to go to relationships long before these things happen. So hopefully you have some of those things in place that you have communicated how your department works, how you plan, and that something like this might happen one day. One company I joined, on Friday, before I joined, everything was peaceful and over the weekend they did a system change. So everything went chaos. We had three to four-hour wait times on my very first day. So I had no relationships, but I still, I just went to people and said, “Hey, I’m Evan. And I understand this is your role in the company. And we got to become fast friends and we got to start working together.” So I think people respond well to the friendliness and being direct. And you’re all at the same company you want to pull in the same direction.

Evan Hopkins: (06:54)
I think though, with marketing as a good example, is they’re working hard to drive business. And if they’re driving business into a channel that can’t handle it, they’re wasting money. So we think about all of the money going into Google every single day, driving clicks. Well, what’s the point in doing that if you can’t handle it? So I think you want to communicate those things and put it into also their business objectives and say, “Hey, let’s save some dollars this month until we get this solved. And then when we got things solved, let’s pour the money back in when it’s going to add value to the business.”

Gabe Larsen: (07:26)
I mean, yeah, it’s always, if you can help people do their job better, it’s not just about you, but it’s like, “Hey, I can help you do your job a little better.” I think people are always willing to hear that more than just complaints or arguments, et cetera. As you think about COVID and you guys, it must have been a roller coaster. Can you touch on that and how you kind of played around there?

Evan Hopkins: (07:45)
Yeah. So, sorry. Our scenario there last year was having a good start to 2020. COVID starts to hit and within call it a week, 90% of our bookings for the upcoming sort of month, month, and a half disappear off of our schedules. So I think very similar to what airlines experienced, probably even more extreme than, yeah, the whole travel industry got hammered. But we went from things are great to there’s nothing. So we stopped and we didn’t know what was going to happen. So I think everyone had to make tough decisions. We stopped hiring. So think about, we have about, a small group. We’re right in our hiring cycle through April and May and we expect to be adding maybe 80 or so people to our staff, but we hired nobody because we have no volume coming and no one’s booking, but then all of a sudden near the sort of end of May, everything goes crazy and everyone’s like, “I’m going outside again.” I don’t care, various reasons it happened and RVing’s the way to go.

Gabe Larsen: (08:51)
That’s totally me. It’s like March and April, I’m like, I don’t do anything, man. June. I’m like, I’m hitting every mountain in this whole country.

Evan Hopkins: (08:59)
We’re going everywhere. So again, a great problem to have, but, so it came back gangbusters. So basically, we should have hired all of those people but we didn’t. So we had to very quickly go out, make sure that we took advantage because we did an okay job. I think we could have done better, but we did an okay job of continuing to get applications. We didn’t get to have a funnel of people. So we start to hire a couple of classes that we told them that we were going to pause and then we’d get back to them. We were able to bring those people on quickly and then run through our training programs. And I think that’s a big, important thing too, is you need to assess your training and what is required versus the ideal state to train.

Evan Hopkins: (09:41)
And we had to make some tough decisions. We made some right ones. We made some wrong ones last year, but and we tried some things along the way. Could we train people just on ABC and not DEF? We learned that they actually needed D but E and F weren’t required. So I think you learn along the way and get people out on the floor. And then what you really got to do is support the leaders that you have because now they got people who aren’t trained maybe to the same extent and you’re throwing them into long wait times, customers who are a bit upset, obviously, for having to wait. So you really, I find if you support your leaders would probably be my number two-point, is make sure that they have what they need. Make sure you have enough leaders. We brought in some sort of extra coaching levels last year as we’ve started to scale up, just to make sure that no one was burning out. That was our big one. And I think still we push people pretty hard, but that was a really big focus through that period of time with the leaders.

Gabe Larsen: (10:37)
Wow. Wow. Yeah. So you really went from 90% cancellation to three months later to fully booked and you didn’t have the right staff. You didn’t have the staff because you basically stopped. Wow. You obviously made it through though. You survived. That must have been a roller coaster.

Evan Hopkins: (10:58)
We survived. We went from 20 sorts of active team members to, I think we hit 175 team members, within two and a half months.

Gabe Larsen: (11:08)
Wow. Can you talk about the hiring program? I mean, did you use an external group? How did you hire? How do you scale that fast on the people’s side? Was it, you feel like you’ve got a pretty good hiring program?

Evan Hopkins: (11:23)
We’re really proud of the team that did the hiring. And I got to call out Johnny Ramirez on my team who leads our CS organization and he really owned the hiring. He implemented a few things into the hiring process. Automation. So we use a tool called Workable, and it really helps to automate a lot of the connection with a person asking questions, getting the information. We use also a predictive index to understand the person’s sort of communication styles. But that also could happen right in Workable. So what that meant was Johnny didn’t have to spend a whole bunch of time back and forth and communicating. He was getting people at the end and then can make decisions on whether to interview or not. So that was really effective for us when we got that in place. So we’re going through the hiring process, obviously getting people in the training, but at the same time, again, learnings from the past, immediately, we went out to the market and started talking to vendors and we brought on one. They helped us for a little bit. We had a partner last year who’s in the RV space as well who they stepped up, they loaned us some people because they were incredibly quiet still, kind of had an, we were a little bit ahead of them before they started to get busy again.

Evan Hopkins: (12:35)
So they loaned us people and we trained them up. And then we also went out and we did get a vendor with them. We added a second vendor and they had about 60 or 70 people I think that another industry was still hit hard in the travel space. So we were able to grab a [inaudible] and then just train them up in ours. So yeah, it was quite rapid. And again, you have things that you would definitely do differently and all of that, but we were able to sort of turn around. So August, but when we got into August, we were sort of operating at where we would expect to be. You’d call, someone would answer right away to help you and get you going.

Gabe Larsen: (13:17)
I love it. Wow. That is just so many 20 to like 170. So you hit on the hiring, but just training for a minute. You must’ve kind of broken your core principles there. Did you feel like you were able to quickly kind of solve that or were people running through automation or how did you, I understand how you brought them all, but how’d you get them up to speed so fast?

Evan Hopkins: (13:39)
We, man, I’m always trying to push the team to go faster and more efficiently. So I think it was just really good discussions with the training team, the managers, myself, and we just sort of picked through the training program to try to decide what we could and couldn’t do. And at one point I really pushed the team too, as an example, just focus on helping owners. Can we train them just on that part of our program and the sort of things they need to understand and not the renter’s side? And that didn’t work. We tried it, but it didn’t work because so many of, when you’re trying to help an owner, you need to understand the renter side too. But we tried that with one class and then we had to go back and retrain them. But other things that we did try to do and say, Hey, as this does, things that only happen once in a while, let’s just not train them on those. Let them know that they might happen, but let’s make sure we improve our documentation. And that was one thing, we didn’t have great documentation kind of coming into 2020. Now, you could come in and start working on my team today. We could show you the systems and we could just give you access to our knowledge base and you could have a successful day. So really proud of the team. Everyone has worked hard on that. But I think that is really important and something I wish we had better going in. We were relying too much on the training before, but now our knowledge base is really solid.

Gabe Larsen: (14:58)
Is that something that was done though, when you say your team, did you have like a dedicated group of technical writers or was it like a training and enablement team that just kicked kind of button got that done? Like, how did you go from, it sounds like, fairly low on that automation training side to very robust managers? Did it How’d you get there?

Evan Hopkins: (15:20)
Yeah, well, so we had training, like many call centers, a great agent became a trainer. And so we were investing in that person last year. And then other people were helping out a little bit. But we’ve quickly got to, and where we are today, I have two technical writers on our team. We have a really world-class L&D manager who, we’re just very lucky to have her and she has trainers on her team as well.

Gabe Larsen: (15:44)
As well as that group? Oh, interesting.

Evan Hopkins: (15:46)
Yeah, I think you really need all those and we were using one tool. We’re moving to more of a dedicated LMS going forward as well. So again, all these things I wish I had in 2020, but you can’t do everything all at once. Sometimes you have to prioritize. So after we kind of got through last summer and I like to do this in every business I’m at, we kind of pick a part of the year where we do an assessment on our technologies, our processes, and our gaps. So we do that after sort of August. And when we did that last year, we have now, we’re just a whole different business this year and really proud of what we’ve created. And we were really able to implement almost everything going into this season. So if you’ve called Outdoorsy this year, you’ve got someone who’s better trained. You pretty much got answered right away. Like there are very few people out there who can say they’ve even waited five minutes this year. And yeah, I feel really good about what the team’s been able to accomplish.

Gabe Larsen: (16:43)
Yeah. I think sometimes that is like, we don’t invest enough in that training and enablement side of the house. That sometimes is understaffed, but I love that. So you’re saying once a year, you kind of do like this little audit of almost people, process, technology. And certainly, it sounds like you’ve been able to make leaps and bounds, but that’s kind of an annual thing you do is that, did I hear that right?

Evan Hopkins: (17:05)
Annual thing, yeah. Taught early in my career to sort of taking that approach. Whether it’s a sales team, support teams, a favorite name I ever heard for it was a full monty. Like we’re just going to look at everything. Nothing is sacred. And I think it’s always really helpful that time of year to bring in people that are not in it day to day because you need some new eyes and if you can involve other parts of the organization all the way to like your legal counsel like they got different perspectives. Bringing in someone from finance to give some perspective, not just on the financial side, but like how they feel about how a customer interacts, I think that’s really important. Otherwise, you just have the same people, the same ideas and you don’t progress.

Gabe Larsen: (17:46)
Well, I’ll have to take note of that. I like that. I mean, I’m forgetting what book that was. It’s the E-Myth if you remember that. You get so used to working in the business that you forget to work on the business. And I don’t know how many people actually are able to take a step back and be like, okay, how are we doing this? How should we do it differently? I liked that a lot. Hit technology for a minute. You obviously looked at that as part of the kind of this full monty that you talked about. How have you thought about taking technology to the next level through this and other scaling opportunities?

Evan Hopkins: (18:17)
Yeah, I think that technology should not be where you start. You should focus on what are you trying to achieve? What’s the experience that you want customers and anyone who’s going to be interacting with you to have? And when you sort of map that out and you can figure those things out again, you want to work with your marketing team, you want to work with your founders or anyone in the business that is a stakeholder. Once you have those, then it’s a lot easier to go out and say, “Here’s what we need.” And then you can look for technologies that meet those needs. I think there are also people out there who you can work with. My wife did this for a little while. We’re, she understands all the technologies and she was working as a broker and someone who could help companies go look for things and then bring partners to the table.

Evan Hopkins: (19:04)
Most of them, you don’t even pay. It’s the vendors that’ll pay them at the end. So I think there are some ways to do that, but yeah, I think you really need to start with, what are you trying to solve? How are you trying to look after your customer? And then part of your, one of your customers is your team members. So you need to think about them as well. What do you want their day to be like? Do you want a team member to have to search through all their notes from training to be able to answer a question or do you want them to have it integrated into their CRM where answers pop up as they type questions in chat? So those are decisions you make. And I think the math on those, especially when you start to get a little bit bigger, pays dividends very quickly on the efficiencies you get from information being at people’s fingertips.

Gabe Larsen: (19:46)
I liked that. I liked that. Mostly I think just the intentionality of it oftentimes, we get desperate and we just reach for technology to save us, but if you can actually be more intentional about it, diagnose a problem and then go find maybe a technology to solve it. It’s hard sometimes I think with all that’s going on, but I think that’s way smarter. I really liked the broker idea. There are so many people who know that. I’m going to have to follow up after that. And then lastly, we talked a little bit about this idea of being able to successfully work with founders and how that’s become such an important part of your guys’ success. Can you touch on that point before we kind of wrap here?

Evan Hopkins: (20:24)
Yeah. I think that founders haven’t for me been too different than some of the early, like really strong executives I worked for. But the big difference is like this is their baby. This is something that they’ve created, they’ve invested in, they live every single moment of their lives. And I think it’s really important to understand that, to try to make sure, not just you understand the business goals, but what’s their vision? Where are they trying to go? Why did they do this? That makes it easier to then bring that to the customer. Because you want that to come all the way through your onboarding and your training, who you’ve hired, how you coach, the QA program, all those sorts of things. But if you have that vision in that light, that’s really helpful. I think it’s also important to try to involve them to whatever extent they want to.

Evan Hopkins: (21:14)
Some founders, want to help you write the opening of a phone call and the end. Whereas others, just want you to understand the direction and sort of the general feeling. So you have to meet your founders, just like anyone, where they are, make sure that they stay informed, keep them updated. Haven’t always done that great in my career. And I think when you miss doing that, that’s when you are at risk of someone diving in, whether it’s a founder or an executive or someone, and they just come with ideas and tell you what to do. But if you keep them informed and engaged, they might still come with ideas, but they might be more of suggestions versus telling you what to do. And when you have to, when you get something that’s coming at you and you’re being told what to do, and you really believe it’s the wrong thing, that’s a lot harder place to try to work from.

Evan Hopkins: (22:01)
Now you’re trying to convince them but that’s probably because you haven’t been telling them what you’re working on or your vision or how more importantly, how you’re executing on their vision and build that trust with them. So I think all of those things are really important. But I think long before that, make sure you’re working for a founder that you agree with their vision. Make sure you agree with their values. And that makes things a lot easier day today because you’re going to make similar decisions that they would.

Gabe Larsen: (22:28)
Yeah. I like that. I mean, it’s so important to the culture. I think if you can get that vision and you can execute on it, it helps everybody, both the founder and your team, you just fill that alignment. Have you felt like there are some certain cadences that work? I guess it just depends on the person. Sometimes it’s a weekly meeting. Sometimes it’s an email. Sometimes it’s literally like getting into the trenches and writing scripts or opening lines or closing lines. Any coaching you’d give to people who are struggling with that to find it? Maybe it just kind of depends on the leader, I guess.

Evan Hopkins: (23:02)
I think like most things, it depends on the leader, but you are better to err on the side of more often than less often. So I think even if you’re, I like to get regular reporting from my team members. We have a very consistent cadence of that from each one of my teams. So feel free to share that over with a leader. You’re already getting it, make sure you share it over and give a little bit of context. I think also make sure that it’s really clear. Are you looking for feedback from them? Are you looking for insight? Is this just an FYI? Because when someone sends me something and it’s unclear, I’m like, “Okay, I’m just going to give you feedback.” Like that’s my natural state. You send me something, you don’t give me direction and I don’t give feedback.

Evan Hopkins: (23:42)
But if you say, “Hey, Evan. Just FYI on what’s going on,” now I know what you want me to do with it. So I think just be really clear there. But then ask. Like most people just ask them, is this enough? Do you want more? Where do you want more detail? All of those things are really helpful. So for me, who I’m working with right now, our founders, they really care what the customer’s thinking, their experience. So I focus on data around that and making sure that they have that as well as the rest of the organization, that that’s very frequent.

Gabe Larsen: (24:08)
Yeah, that data becomes so important. I like that. Okay. Evan, great episode. Great, great talk track. Kudos. I mean, it sounds like you guys felt the, you were standing at the door of the lion’s den and somehow you were able to survive and thrive. I don’t know. The lion’s den just came to my mind. That’s probably not like that. So congratulations. Fascinating story. Really appreciate you joining us today. If someone wanted to kind of continue that dialogue or learn a little bit more about Outdoorsy, any connection, LinkedIn, anyway they could do that?

Evan Hopkins: (24:43)
Absolutely. Yeah. Find me on LinkedIn, Evan Hopkins. I’m the bald guy working for Outdoorsy when you see the picture. But yeah, check out outdoorsy.com as well. And I really encourage people to get out to work on the road. Most of my best work in the last few years has been when I’ve been at a campsite. You’re just inspired in a different way, the fresh air. I really encourage everyone to take an opportunity to do that.

Gabe Larsen: (25:07)
What a cool world that we’re getting to that. I just, I feel like as much as COVID has had its problems, doing some of that, finding more quiet times, being able to get outdoors, I’m with you. I think there’s definitely something there. So I hope we can find the balance as things hopefully kind of calm down when it comes to COVID and all these barriers. So anyway, all right. Well, hey Evan, really appreciate the time and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (25:36)
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Identifying Opportunities for Growth with Justin Robbins

Should CX Pros Forget About the Numbers and Focus on Behavior? with Justin Robbins

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

Kustomer Podcast Kustomer Podcast

In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by CX expert, Justin Robbins. Justin’s the Chief Evangelist at CX Effect and has many years of experience working with customers, starting at an early age. Listen to the full podcast below to learn more about recognizing opportunities internally for customer success long-term.

Put the Customer at the Center

A common theme among highly successful companies is their mission to put the customer at the center of every business aspect, not just in the hands of the CX crew. Creating a customer-centric culture can mean a lot of things. For Justin, this means winning investor and C-Suite approval, unifying each department on the customer mission, and taking a step back to look at the bigger picture.

Gaining investor approval and attention from the higher-ups is certainly a daunting task for new and seasoned CX leaders. Justin’s secret to winning them over is to make CX presentations all about how your team’s efforts succeed with hard data, not just opinions and feelings. Money talks, and when CX success is backed by fruitful data and statistics, the C-Suite listens.

Another major component to providing the ultimate customer experience is getting each branch of the company involved in CX in some way. This could mean keeping the sales team updated on customer events or having the engineers work with CX agents to learn more about the customers they’re making products for. When a brand is wholly aligned with the customer mission, it makes for a seamless experience across all departments.

How to Play the Customer Game

The customer game’s simple – as Justin puts it, “There’s no winner or loser in customer experience. The whole point is to keep business going.” Every time an agent helps a customer, even if they score 100% satisfaction, that number resets as soon as the next customer comes through. The game’s forever ongoing and it’s important for agents to stay attentive because every customer’s needs are different. Viewing each experience in this light helps agents get in the mindset of providing a personalized experience to everyone they encounter.

To win at this game every time, leaders need to take a step back and look at their team and the role they play in company success. Justin asks, “How do we identify what they’re doing well and where there’s an opportunity for things to be changed or replaced completely?” When leaders take a deeper look into individual agent behavior and skillset and then find a way to utilize it to their team’s advantage, they are then able to drive growth and change on a larger, unified scale.

Use Talent Where you Find it

Part of looking at the bigger CX picture for leaders is understanding how each of your agents behaves in the work environment. For some, empathy comes naturally and they’re able to really connect with customers on a personal level. Others might be organizationally inclined and more numbers-oriented. Diversity is what brings that human element back into CX and leaders who recognize the importance of diversity in their skillset are capable of assembling a rockstar team.

In the CX world, skills are transferable, meaning they can be taught on the job. What’s really important is for leaders to search for candidates who have the skills that compliment their team. Talent’s key to team success and leaders can find the right talent by focusing on each individual’s strengths and having them teach others about what comes naturally to them rather than having to “get everybody coached on everything all the time.”

To learn more about how to spot opportunities for change and growth, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

Listen Now:

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Full Episode Transcript:

Tomorrow’s Customer Experience Starts Here with Brad Birnbaum

TRANSCRIPT
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
All right. Welcome everybody to today’s LinkedIn live. We’re excited to get going today. Really appreciate you joining. I’m excited because I think we’ve got a cool talk track, fun guest. So let us dive right in. We have Justin Robbins who’s currently the Chief Evangelist at a company called CX Effect. Justin, thanks for joining, and how the heck are you?

Justin Robbins: (00:37)
Hey Gabe! Thanks for having me. It’s Friday. I’m great. I’m excited. Kids are about to go back to school. I have no reason to complain.

Gabe Larsen: (00:47)
For us, that’s Tuesday of next week. What is that for you?

Justin Robbins: (00:50)
We’ve still got one more week. So it’s the following Monday.

Gabe Larsen: (00:54)
Yeah, yeah. Boy, that summer just cruised by, but I’m not opposed to getting the kids back to school. So Justin and I go actually way back. We had our first conversation when he was at Talkdesk doing some cool stuff. I knew about him then, and I know about him now, so I won’t steal any more thunder than that. Justin, tell us a little bit about your history and what you do over there at CX Effect.

Justin Robbins: (01:19)
Totally Gabe, I always think of myself as a bit of a customer experience mutt. I started as an agent at the age of 12. I got suckered into cold calling newspaper subscriptions and really, I mean, I just kind of, I got, I never tried to actually try to steer away from it, but I somehow kept getting sucked back into customer experience and contact center types of roles. So moved through the operations for a long time. Back in 2007, I joined the team at Hershey and got to build out, at that time was a guest experience program. So going back almost 15 years, this idea of putting customers at the center of a business was just a super fun experience. I got to do that for five years. Kind of moving into the world of training and consulting. Did that for a while when and how you mentioned Talkdesk was there at 8×8 in-house at technology companies and just kind of spiraled right through all of these different types of positions within customer experience and contact center. And landed at CX Effect, actually last summer I started talking to the founding CEO about this idea of a business that could really better educate and help customer experience leaders navigate their technology decisions and whether it’s implementing new technologies, optimizing what they have, or just getting smarter around how is customer experience evolving and how is the toolset around it changing? So that got me excited about that mission. As Chief Evangelist, really, I do two things. One is all of our marketing efforts, so everything we do to kind of educate and put the word out about CX Effect and the other is our kind of training and development. For me, it’s about elevating the intellect around customer experience. It can be a fuzzy term for a lot of businesses. So what does it mean? How do you make it meaningful to you?

Gabe Larsen: (03:08)
Yeah, I just felt like that is so needed. We just need more best practices, content. I think that we’re, kind of fluffy comes to mind. Sometimes it goes there, right? It’s just making everybody happy, make the customer happy. How? How do you do that? What are the steps? How do you get that journey optimized? How do you get the operations and the numbers? And so I’m glad to see that there are more groups popping up that can help us with that because I certainly am not the expert. That’s why we’re having Justin on today. So let’s dive into the topic at hand. We want to talk about this idea of scoreless QA. I love the title here. Should CX pros forget about the numbers and just focus on behaviors? Maybe the start, Justin, level set for us. QA, what is it? How, or should companies be thinking about it? Give us a big picture.

Justin Robbins: (04:00)
Yeah. So quality assurance in the context of contact centers, or even some broader customer experience operations are often the scorecards or the mechanisms we put into place to understand how is our team doing at ultimately keeping our promises is the way that I kind of like to simplify it. It might be something that’s trying to measure. If you’re in a highly regulated environment, it might be the checks and balances, are we complying with processes? If there are certain things that have to be said or certain things have to be done, are we doing those things? For some businesses it’s about the internal look at, are we doing the right things to drive the right outcomes? It’s about if we think an agent saying this will please the customer, did they say that? And then tie it back to, did it please the customer? Or the even maybe broader idea is if we’re looking to develop and coach and improve our employees, how do we identify what they’re doing well and where there’s an opportunity for things to be changed or replaced completely? And that’s fundamentally what quality assurance in contact centers is about. Understanding behavior and driving change around it.

Gabe Larsen: (05:11)
Yeah. And then maybe one more kind of foundational question. Just, it seems like because the contact center has been around a while. QA has been around a while. How have you seen that evolve? And then again, we’ll get into maybe some of the best practices and changes over the past decade or two. Any thoughts on where we were and where we kind of are at the moment?

Justin Robbins: (05:30)
Yeah. So if we think about the nature and the origin of contact centers, it was really a cost-savings measure. It was built around incredibly transactional types of interactions, often, very basic. That’s kind of how we got the mindset of contact centers, being cost centers of agents being these entry-level types of positions that are low paid. And it was things that, it often was highly scripted or it was the guide rails around what had happened in those interactions. A, was easily predicted, but B, highly controlled. And they were highly controlled for a lot of reasons. We’re trying to mitigate costs, we’re trying to mitigate risk, whatever it would be. As we look at how self-service and automation and all of these kinds of predictable transactional types of things have moved out of being handled by humans and into self-service and whatnot, what lanes in the contact center is often highly nuanced? It’s highly complicated. And is this, this has moved away from the idea of heavy scripting. They’ve tried to move away from a checkbox mentality and really moved more towards outcome-driven types of focuses. It’s not about this necessarily how you do it, but what do you accomplish? What do you achieve as a result of what you did?

Gabe Larsen: (06:44)
Yeah, that makes tons of sense. So it’s a big transition from scripting every word, every step to are we getting the right outcome? And sometimes I give you the latitude to shift from there to there. That makes sense. Okay. A couple of key points about this then. We talked a little bit, as we were planning this, about predictive versus reflective metrics. And I was thinking I don’t even know what those are. What are those and what’s the right balance and measuring CX success? Go.

Justin Robbins: (07:12)
Yeah. So first I want to talk about the problem with the typical purchase, like the quality assurance score, which is what happens in a lot of these. You fill out the criteria and it’s like, there’s a threshold. It’s like, we want our agents to achieve an 85% or above or whatever. And what happens, and actually kind of the inspiration for this was a book written many, many years ago called Finite and Infinite Games, Simon Sinek kind of repurposed the idea when he wrote The Infinite Game and it’s around this idea, like everything that we do in life, there are two types of games that we’re playing. Games that are meant to be won and games where the purpose of the game is to perpetuate the game. There is no winner or loser, right? It’s constantly reset. And part of what we’ve done-

Gabe Larsen: (07:53)
I don’t like games that can’t be won, but I’m hearing you, but I don’t like them.

Justin Robbins: (07:57)
Well, think about the idea of customer experience. If I get 100% on my QA interaction from the customer I just had, that 100% is meaningless when I answer the phone or I answer the chat for the next customer. The game resets. There’s no winner or loser in customer experience. The whole point is to keep business going. So that’s part of the problem with scoring versus looking at an approach that doesn’t use scores, but to the idea of predictive or reflective, part of what we’ve tried to use with these quality assurance programs is to say that a score is predictive of a great customer experience or not. That’s right. That’s part of the intent. And often we see an incredible disconnect between if your quality program is about internal compliance, I could score 100% on internal compliance, but when I look at the customer’s satisfaction, they’re totally miffed, we did nothing to serve them. And often that’s one of the most common challenges that I see in businesses is there’s a disconnect between the quality score and then employee ability to progress in their performance improvement. They get an 87 on this and the reason they got an 87 is totally different. So lots of challenges in actually being a predictor of success. But –

Gabe Larsen: (09:17)
I got to, sorry. I got to interrupt. You just hit on, I think one of the fundamental things that CEOs, or if it’s just such a bane of our existence in the CX space, that we have metrics that look good internally, and then they have zero correlation to business outcomes that I think we care about. Whether you go as low as customer SAT or as high as like revenue, bottom line, top line, it’s like, I see that we’re getting good scores, but our revenue is lower. That doesn’t work. And I think that’s such frustration for business leaders and some of the people on the outside looking at customer experience because yeah, they’re chanting, “We got all these internal metrics high,” but they’re seeing things that they care about not in the correlation doesn’t seem to be there.

Justin Robbins: (10:11)
Well, I mean, and that really goes to the point of what is the idea of predictive versus reflective metrics? And most of what we measure in our contact centers or on customer experience teams is looking backward. It’s what did we score? What happened in the past? What was, all of these things are looking back and then the way we managed to that is very reactive. And we’re trying to address symptoms, but we’re not looking at the cause. And so the idea of shifting from reflective metrics because we’re always looking at what happened in the past to predictive is this idea of what’s happening in our business that if we do this, or if we spend time here or whatever, that would lead to great behavior. I used the example off to Gabe of losing weight. Say, so my wife and I, we just had a child and I packed on some like pregnancy pounds myself. And if I want to lose that weight-

Gabe Larsen: (11:11)
You call it sympathy weight.

Justin Robbins: (11:17)
That’s it. That’s it. My reflective measure is stepping on the scale. Did I lose or gain weight? But my predictive measures are, what am I eating? When, how often and what kind of exercise am I doing? And I think that’s part of the shift for us as leaders is what are those types of things that we should be looking at and measuring, and coaching and developing in our business? Not so many scale metrics, because most of what we’re doing today are scale metrics if we’re being honest.

Gabe Larsen: (11:40)
I love that. So can you maybe give a couple of examples? I mean, I loved your analogy of the weight scale because I have my COVID pounds that have been starting to pack on and I’m always terrified. I’m always, go to the weight scale and I’m like, “This is inexplainable! How did this happen?” And it’s like, “Well, the cheesecake you downed the other day, that probably helped.” So I know I’ve lived that. But when you go into some of the contact centers or service centers you’ve dealt with, what are some of the ways that you’re actually shifting it? So what are some of those scale metrics versus some of those indicator metrics that you’re starting people to kind of change their thought and focus on?

Justin Robbins: (12:19)
Yeah. So part of this goes back to the idea of when you look at your quality assurance in your coaching and your development programs, how are you measuring, tracking, talking about success? So traditionally I’m looking at your score and we might talk about a couple of criteria on that score, but it’s really about your score. And it’s about improving your score. When you shift away from a score-based approach to quality and more to behavior-based coaching, that’s really what scoreless QA is about. It’s about behavior-based coaching. Now, you and I Gabe, start to have focused conversations around, let’s say we’re in a sales environment. And one of the skills I’m trying to develop in you as is upselling and cross-selling. Now, I focus, when I do a quality assurance evaluation on you, I’m looking around a specific skill, not for a score, but how do I develop this skill and track you over a period of time? How do we do around that skill? Because what tends to happen when it’s score-based is it’s like buckshot, it’s scattered. And I, as your coach today, I’m talking to you, Gabe, about the reason you missed these criteria. Tomorrow, it’s about these criteria and there’s no cohesiveness between coaching interactions. There’s no long-term development. So that’s part of the shift in terms of being predictive versus reflective is let’s focus on one area, not just what is the score, but what does the behavior tell us?

Gabe Larsen: (13:40)
And then how do you come up with some of those? I love the cross-sell example. That helps solidify that in my mind. But do you kind of then have to go from the end backward? You sit down with some of these leaders and you say, “What is ultimately the goal? And then let’s now trackback. What are those skills that lead to the goal we want? Then let’s develop a program around those skills.” Or how do you get this, for those who are wondering like myself, how do you get this in play? What’s the first step to do it?

Justin Robbins: (14:07)
So there’s really, to me, I think kind of three big ways that you can go after it. One is kind of strategic initiative- based where you’re saying, “Hey, as a team, we’re rolling out a new product line,” or, “We’re really looking to improve, we know from our customer surveys, that the number one place where we fall short is on empathizing.” Whatever it might be. And so we want to make a focused effort around not only helping employees who struggle with empathy, develop better empathy, but also take employees who are really, really good at empathy and figure out how do we leverage them? Not coach them, not be like, “Gabe, you’re great at empathy. So I’m not going to develop you,” but say, “How do we use you now to help train and equip and engage others?” So part of it’s like focused on that.

Justin Robbins: (14:52)
A second could be based on individual employees. So each supervisor spends time really knowing, if I’m a supervisor and I’ve got a team of say eight to twelve agents, which is typically around like the average that I see in a lot of contact centers, I should know my eight to twelve agents. What is the core focus area for them this month or this quarter? And then I’m working with quality or if I’m the quality person or coaches around that type of, so there’s that. And then the third way to go about it is really around like, kind of event-driven. So for new hires, new hires kind of have this like track that you put them on in terms of quality. Their first few weeks are based around this type of development and then we move them in month two is around this type of development. Or for our employees who have been with us a long time, maybe they fall into a kind of categories. Our top performers, focus around these types of programs. Our kind of fence performers, we put them around here. Our under-performers we go here. So really there’s a number of approaches. It’s ultimately around like, how do you focus on for each employee, one to maybe three meaningful behaviors kind of at a time? But that’s really what it comes around, not let’s try to get everybody coached on everything all the time.

Gabe Larsen: (16:08)
That’s a great, yeah, that last part. Being able to simplify it and focus on just a couple of core behaviors and really work those and then define some new ones, because man, boiling the ocean, as we all know, can get fairly difficult. Love it. Okay. I think I got it. I think I get the problem. I think I get some of the ways you’re thinking about changing that QA to this idea of the kind of scoreless QA resonates. Wanting to maybe, as we look to wrap a little bit, just pull you back out a little bit. The high-level question just around complacency. What do you feel like is holding most businesses back from investing in the overall customer experience? Any thoughts on that one?

Justin Robbins: (16:48)
Yeah. So when I look at the businesses that have struggled to make the case for investing in CX, there’s typically like two or three common things that are playing. Number one is your champion for customer experience doesn’t have either stakeholder or executive buy-in. They’re kind of out on an island. And I had a conversation with someone about it recently and they’re almost like the outcast in the company. And part of why they become the outcast is they have, like the way they talk about customer experience is very like feeling or opinion-driven. It’s not evidence-based. And when I think about if I’m going to invest in customer experience and I’m an executive, I need to understand from a, is this helping improve revenue? Is it reducing churn? What is the tangible business outcome like?

Justin Robbins: (17:40)
So that’s part one. Part two is really like a conflicting definition of what customer experience is. So you’ve got a lot of people who are really passionate about customer experience, but there isn’t maybe a unified leader. And so sales view of CX is one thing. The contact center’s view is another thing. Operations. And then everybody’s kind of championing minor causes, but there’s not a unified vision for customer experience. So that’s it. Or the third is, maybe somebody is like showing the business case, they’ve got a unified leader, but really then it comes down to figuring out like what’s the north star. I talked to someone just a few weeks ago that they said, “Look, we can get money. We can get, we’ve got people to accept, but we don’t know where to start. We don’t know what’s going to be most impactful for us because we’re too entrenched in it.” So looking for people can provide an outsider’s view of like, here’s what you’re saying you’re trying to achieve. Here’s what you’ve been doing. Like, focus here first. That tends to be maybe the other missing link.

Gabe Larsen: (18:49)
I think those are great. But the metrics one, like we talked about that earlier in the program. It’s just sometimes those metrics. So the CEO, just don’t understand where that CX team is coming from. So it feels fluffy versus data-driven. That one just seems to come up so often in my conversation. Awesome. Well, let’s wrap Justin. Really appreciate you taking the time. Couple of things to end. One is if we want to learn a little more around scoreless QA, CX Effect, any thoughts? Where do we go? Comments?

Justin Robbins: (19:19)
Easy. Cxeffect.com. I know we were also tagged on the LinkedIn post here. So click on that, but our website’s the best way to get content, get in touch with us, all those good things.

Gabe Larsen: (19:28)
Cool. And if someone does want to continue the dialogue with you, any recommendations? Best way to reach out?

Justin Robbins: (19:34)
Let’s keep it easy. We’re doing this on LinkedIn. So get ahold of me here. I got, gosh, I’d love to keep the conversation going.

Gabe Larsen: (19:42)
Awesome. Justin, I owe you one if I could ever return the favor. Appreciate it. Scoreless QA. It’s in my head now. I think I got it. So thanks again for you and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Justin Robbins: (19:53)
Cool. Thanks, Gabe.

Exit Voice: (19:59)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you’re subscribed to hear more customer service secrets.

 

3 Strategies to Achieve Growth with Customer Satisfaction

3 Strategies to Achieve Growth with Customer Satisfaction

Listen and subscribe to our podcast:

Kustomer Podcast Kustomer Podcast

In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe and Vikas are joined by CMO of Unbabel, Sophie Vu. Sophie has years of experience in the CX realm and shares her secrets to keeping up with the modern customer by moving beyond language barriers. Listen to the full podcast to learn more.

Navigating the New Economy and the New Customer

Now that the world’s returning to a somewhat normal state, many leaders are scrambling to relate to their customers in this new economy. Customers from all across the globe are opting for the digital experience for shopping and communicating with brands, and with this high demand comes a rich diversity of languages – this is where Unbabel shines. Unbabel is a translation platform powered by AI, for the benefit of agents and users. Having an understanding of your customer is key, and what better way to do that than speaking their native language? Tools like Unbabel help propel companies ahead of their competitors, giving them a language optimization edge. Sophie’s goal is to help CX leaders understand that just because your customer doesn’t speak your language, doesn’t mean that you can’t help them. “One thing I think that’s really exciting…is that you no longer have to hire agents based on their language skill. You can basically hire them on their expertise.” Teaming a seasoned agent with the power of AI creates the ultimate experience.

Speak in Your Customer’s Language with the Help of AI

Imagine the surprise when a non-English speaking customer contacts your company and is greeted in their native language, full of nuances and terms that are familiar to them in their region. This is all possible through AI, which can be extremely useful across the entire customer journey, not just at the point of first interaction. The way that AI helps in these situations is it detects the customer’s preferred language and connects them with an agent who speaks that language or helps to translate the customer’s words into the language of the agent. AI’s certainly a hot topic in the CX realm that leaders were initially apprehensive to include, but the more it’s integrated into everyday business, the more leaders and consumers become comfortable utilizing this modern technology. The brands that do it right have AI as well as a team of qualified people working together to provide the best experience possible. “Humans will always need to be involved, especially in language translation. AI machine translation is not perfect.” As technology advances and more leaders integrate AI, the more efficient agents will be.

Want to be Global? Try Language Translation

Translation software is an amazing tool because it adds that human element back into CX. It allows your company to expand on a global scale, which is so important for leaders trying to make their brand accessible. If your brand only caters to those who are English speakers for example, then your brand cannot truly be deemed global. It’s so important for leaders to understand their customers across the map and to make an effort to relate to them on every level. AI isn’t always going to be the magic pill that fixes everything, but it can streamline the process and make things much easier for the customer and agent. Best of all, AI’s approachable and manageable, meaning that the leaders who are considering using this tool should absolutely take that next step and do it! Find a way to integrate AI into your CX team where they work together to make your company more accessible for the global customer.

Sophie leaves listeners with one last piece of advice: “It’s really about thinking about people as a whole and their skillset and their values and less about where they come from and what language they speak.” By focusing on the customer and recognizing them as a human being, it makes them feel more valued and connected to the brand. Add AI translation software to the mix and you’re absolutely going to see successful results and better scores.

To learn more about how you can benefit from AI-driven software to remove language barriers, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

Listen Now:

Listen to “3 Key Strategies to Achieving High Growth with High Customer Satisfaction | With Sophie Vu” on Spreaker.

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Full Episode Transcript:

3 Strategies to Achieve Growth with Customer Satisfaction

TRANSCRIPT
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
All right. Welcome everybody to today’s show. We’re back. You’ve got Gabe Larsen here with Kustomer, my colleague, Vikas Bhambri, who runs Success and Sales over here at Kustomer, and we have a very special guest joining us today, and we’ll be talking about a really fun topic. Sophie Vu is joining us from Unbabel. Sophie, thanks for joining and how the heck are you?

Sophie Vu: (00:35)
I’m great. Thanks for having me Gabe. I’m excited to be joining and using this platform. I’m going to self-limit newbie to this platform, so excited to be here. Thank you.

Gabe Larsen: (00:46)
I love it. So maybe tell us just a little bit real quick about yourself and Unbabel, if you can, Sophie.

Sophie Vu: (00:54)
Sure. So I’m based in San Francisco, Unbabel and I’m the CMO. So I lead go to market and operations for the company and specifically, what we do is we get to work with some global, very customer-focused brands, like Booking, Logitech, Microsoft, and really enable them to interact with their customers in any language. And Unbabel is an AI powered solution combined with human editors. So we have a global community of professional and casual translators who obviously passed certification to enable us to provide great quality translations in near real time. So enabling companies that promise a customer-centric vision and brand and by creating empathy by speaking your customer’s language. That’s Unbabel in a nutshell.

Gabe Larsen: (01:46)
Love it, love it. Yeah. And we’re going to be talking a little bit more about that. So let’s dive into the topic. I want to click into kind of just what you were talking about. You guys play in a little bit of an interesting space, this idea of kind of language operations. Could you give Vikas and I a little bit of an overview of what that is, why you think it’s important, what’s going on in that space?

Sophie Vu: (02:08)
Sure. So self-admittedly, we are creating a space, a category, what we call Language Operations. And so you can think about it as a holistic approach to enabling organizations, to leverage people, processes, and technology, to enable this multilingual communication. So think of Language Operations as a way to roll out, centralize, and scale multilingual capabilities across every function in an enterprise, right? We’re starting with customer service, but eventually we want to obviously enable marketing, sales, product, HR, legal, or what have you, to be able to function in this global world that we live in. So language operations are technology, people, and processes the entire concept.

Gabe Larsen: (02:54)
Yeah. I want to just flash this, as you kind of talked a little bit about that for the audience. It’s kind of a different concept, but it definitely seems like it’s something that as companies scale, it’s becoming extremely important. I wanted to throw it out to Vikas. I mean, Vikas, as you interact with all these different companies, everybody seems to want to go global or come to the US or go Europe, what role do you feel like language is playing in that? I mean, it seems like it’s been a barrier for a long time.

Vikas Bhambri: (03:21)
It has. And I think this is an exciting time and I think Unbabel is the right place, right time. Allowing brands and companies of various operations, we’re obviously looking at it from a customer experience perspective, but the think globally and act locally. And I think that is something that if you look at what has challenged brands in the past of really scaling, was that, I now need to have people in local region that speak local language and with a platform like Unbabel, that’s no longer the case. So just, let’s look at it from a customer experience perspective, having an English speaking agent sitting in the US who can now engage a Spanish speaking customer in Spain or Columbia or Mexico in the language in the local tone that’s required, is truly unique.

Vikas Bhambri: (04:25)
And that allows somebody that, like I said, can think globally act locally, but also look bigger than they actually are, because you might only have a team of, 50, a hundred, 200 sitting here in the US or actually sitting in Ireland or wherever it might be, but then being able to engage a global audience of customers. And as Sophie said, that’s the first wave, but then you think about other use cases where you can have that. Do I need an HR professional in every single geo that I operate in when I can have an HR team sitting in England? Let me not just be US-centric, but sitting in England or sitting in France, but then communicating with employees that are global. So I think that’s kind of the exciting thing about what Sophie and her team are doing.

Gabe Larsen: (05:20)
Yeah. Yeah. It’s so funny. I had this experience the other day, I was chatting with somebody and he kind of walked through what you just talked about, Vikas. It sounds almost futuristic. He’s like, “Look, I’m sitting in London, but I’m, I speak Chinese.” And he’s talking with a restaurant chain on chat. And somehow that person actually, he was then speaking with the Chinese person, although he was in London, I was just like, it was just really cool that it could, his location was different, but the chatbot could recognize the language. And then he was routed to a person that could speak it. That sounds amazing. So to see it in action, I think, is pretty cool. So Sophie, kudos to you and the team. I want to, we’re going to come back to this language thing in just a minute, but I do want to back up a little bit more and tie it into some of the things going on in the market. So many interesting things are going on in the state of customer service. Language is one of them. And we’ll talk again a little bit about that in a minute, but Sophie, you guys have recently done a study. Want to talk and hear a little bit about some of those big picture trends you’re finding and hearing, and then let’s dive into a couple of them and talk about what we’re seeing people do to win as those trends appear.

Sophie Vu: (06:32)
Sure. Yeah. So we did a recent study focused on customer service and customer support, and it covered about 600 leaders across US, the UK and Germany. And we just wanted to understand what was keeping them up at night and what were their goals. So some of the findings were, you would think customer service departments usually are all about cost optimization, but they’re actually looking to spend more this year. And I think that’s due to just the demand during COVID. Demand for digital interactions, certain industries had higher demand than others, as you can imagine. And it was really about how they can reorganize and rethink their offering. And make it more digital, more self-service. And so that was one of the big trends. The other one was, everyone talks about AI and AI as a way to help augment and really scale these operations. So you have limited people, but how do you make these people be more, do more with less?

Gabe Larsen: (07:41)
Right. So, yeah. I can’t argue with AI. Maybe we can start there and then circle back. What is it, do you feel like that is, with this AI thing, obviously it’s a buzzword. Why is it becoming more adopted? Where is it becoming more adopted? How do you see it playing out in customer service organizations?

Sophie Vu: (08:01)
Sure. So I think AI has come in different ways, right? It started out as this grand thing. “Oh my god! Robots are taking the world!” To them, “Oh, we don’t need humans anymore.” And I think everything kind of calmed down a little bit to understand that AI can actually help augment and supplement the things that we’re doing. And humans will always need to be involved, especially in language translation. AI machine translation is not perfect. They’re going to miss the context, the nuances, the cultural differences in tone. And so it’s really that combination. But I think, for example, it’s about incorporating AI in processes to help optimize and streamline it. And people are doing that in very strategic ways. It’s not all or nothing. It’s applying AI where it matters most.

Gabe Larsen: (08:51)
Yeah. I like that. I feel like it’s something that is still being talked about, but it does feel like people are getting the hang of it. Like we’re starting to see it actually not just be talk, but there’s a little bit of walking going on. Vikas, what’s your take on how people are playing this game of actually getting it into play and seeing a difference in their business?

Vikas Bhambri: (09:08)
Yeah. I think what we’re seeing in the customer service side is, there are three key areas. One is on that point of interaction with the customer, being able to automate the suggestions that we give them, the help articles, being able to help them troubleshoot their own issue or challenge. Because reality is, I think you’ve got more and more customers who don’t actually want to engage a live human agent if they don’t have to. The second piece is then how do you use AI? If the person basically raises their hand and says, “You know what? I tried, but I can’t do it.” Or, “I need further assistance.” To identify who they are and what their challenges are, and some of the areas where you can do that, right? You can look for obviously anything that they share with the bot or the automation, you can look at the sentiment of any free-form text that they deliver.

Vikas Bhambri: (10:07)
You can look at the language of what they’re, what language they’re speaking in. You can look at all of that detail. And of course, if you have any data about who they are, then make sure that you route them to the right individual or team that can service them most effectively. And then lastly, I think Sophia alluded to this, which is how do we empower that human being with AI? So how do we give the agent who’s sitting there now trying to help this individual who tried to troubleshoot themselves and couldn’t, how do we recommend suggestions or solutions to them so that they can be most effective and efficient? So really using technology and AI across that entire journey of that particular conversation.

Gabe Larsen: (10:54)
Yeah. I feel like it’s, I love the analogy. My nine-year-old actually made me watch the Robert Downey Jr. Now I’m forgetting –

Sophie Vu: (11:04)
Iron Man?

Vikas Bhambri: (11:04)
Iron Man?

Gabe Larsen: (11:06)
Is there a movie called Rocket Man? For some reason, I said, oh, was that rocket man, rocket man? I don’t know. Anyways, I thought, I was thinking what a cool analogy of that. And as you were talking, Vikas, it’s like, at some point you will be, you’ll take this regular kind of customer service agent and you encompass them around, it’s not just in chat bot, but it’s this, you encompass them with almost like a JARVIS-type experience where it’s recommending or it’s telling them or feeding them or guiding them. And I was like, wouldn’t that be cool? I think we can actually get there in customer service. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I thought that was a fun analogy. And it’s not Rocket Man. It’s Iron Man. Sophie, what do you, on the language side of things, do AI play a role in that in some form or fashion? How are you guys thinking about that specifically around this language offsite then?

Sophie Vu: (11:53)
Yeah. Absolutely. So, I am guilty as a marketer. I think a lot of companies have said they do AI and actually made it worse for people to understand what AI actually is and how it’s applied. But am I kind of, I guess BS neater is like, if you remove the AI from the product, is that company still around. Does that product exist? And I think if we remove the AI from Unbabel, we don’t have a solution and technology, we are truly AI powered in the sense that the entire process of translating involves AI to automate and create better efficiency across our translation pipeline as we call it. So it starts even with viewing the incoming message, right? Like we can, like sentiment, language, those nuances to even anonymizing the data, because obviously we do care about respecting PII compliance to then obviously machine translation as well.

Sophie Vu: (12:54)
So obviously AI is a big part of that and then just routing to our translators, if needed, based on the quality. So we also have a proprietary quality estimation system and then just thinking about not only writing, but then also thinking about how do we improve those systems? So frequently asked questions, there’s going to be things that are going to recur and reoccur. And then I think, Vikas, you mentioned about optimizing the agent’s experience, right? So predictive things like, okay, anticipating what that answer will be. Rounding them to the right answers, figuring out who has that expertise within the agent pool as well. So one thing I think that’s really exciting is that with language operations, tying it back there, is that you no longer have to hire agents based on their language skill. You can basically hire them based on their expertise and who doesn’t want to have the right answer and hear it from a knowledgeable person when you have a problem with a product or a service?

Gabe Larsen: (13:55)
I know, I love that. That’s interesting to hear how that can kind of play a role in the language piece. One other thing I want to hit on, when I look through the study, I love this concept of channels. It’s something obviously near and dear to our heart here at Kustomer. When we think of the customer service world, more of an omni-channel experience, just want to throw that out there. Some of the things I was reading in the report around people’s preference of channel, how channels continue to expand. I wanted to get your guys’ take on, obviously people, the omni-channel thing is, it’s there, and I think people are experiencing it. Where do you think we go from here when it comes to channels? What is the next field, green field? Is it more channels? Is it a better combination of synergistic movement of the channel? Vikas, maybe I can start with you on this one. Thoughts on channels and where we’re going there?

Vikas Bhambri: (14:45)
I don’t think there’s any real stopping the number of channels. I think that’s the real challenge for anybody, which is saying, where are my customers and where do they need to be served? And unfortunately you don’t find out until the customer starts knocking on a door in some universe that you then need to answer. And I think a great example of that is TikTok. I remember as much as, you both got a chuckle out of that one, but funny enough, about, probably going back just before I think it was my last trip before the pandemic, and I was sitting down with a CEO of a fashion brand who was really pushing for TikTok as a channel and kind of had the, we had the reaction that you did, which was who you going to talk to on TikTok?

Vikas Bhambri: (15:38)
Now, a year later you’re seeing brands engage consumers, not only for marketing purposes, but for customer service on TikTok. That’s just one example. So what’s the next TikTok? What’s the next messaging platform? What’s the next tool that somebody is going to use where you’re going to have to exist for you to effectively communicate with your consumer? And I think that’s a really interesting challenge for any new CX leader is identifying that. And I remember, I’m not going to age myself here, but I remember when we started talking about chat, people had that same reaction. Nobody’s going to want to chat with us. The phone 1-800-NUMBERS where it’s at. And obviously, chat is now the default channel, right? You kind of get out of the gate and chat and email. And by the way, we talked about things like email and even the phone at one point dying as channels, and they’re not, they still exist. And if anything, they’re growing. So the challenge is you have to exist everywhere. You can pick and choose which ultimately your consumer will be there and there’ll be there before you are.

Gabe Larsen: (16:45)
You know, I have this funny, I had a sit down with our, we’ve been talking about how to expand our marketing center. I sat down with our preferred agency and we were talking about different channels, further international, et cetera. They did. They brought up TikTok, they’re like, “Have you thought about going deeper into TikTok?” And I was like, “I haven’t even thought about TikTok.” And then truthfully, they brought up this kind of new platform club, near clubhouse, if you guys, I’m on one. You can tell, I’m not an expert at clubhouse either.

Vikas Bhambri: (17:19)
You’re doing it, Gabe. All you do is talk.

Gabe Larsen: (17:23)
I’m on it, but they’re like, “Hey, are you active there?” And I’m like, yeah, like you said, Vikas. I’m getting old. I’m just like, “Can we just talk about Google?” But it’s like new channels coming on, coming online. And are you where your customers are? Sophie, thoughts on that?

Sophie Vu: (17:39)
Yeah, I mean, I came from the social customer service space. I was trying to make that happen 6, 7, 8 years ago. And, well, I’m not the reason. So like I wasn’t learning brands like, hey. They weren’t getting anywhere in these email labyrinths and they’re going to go on Twitter and tell the whole world the problems they’re having with your brand. And, you know, they had a voice. Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp from a global perspective. So I mean, customer service teams need to be prepared. They, it’s just going to be continuing when it’s an existing platform, that’s going to keep continuing and staying there and then adding additional new ones.

Gabe Larsen: (18:20)
Yeah. I can’t argue that. I got two more questions than we can wrap on this. You guys, one is, we’re obviously coming out of, I want to move just a little bit away from the research for a second and get your opinion and then maybe closing arguments here. How do you think people can adapt to the changes coming out of the pandemic? Do people need to be doubling down on AI? Do they need to be refocusing on omni or is it just kind of business as usual? Anything you guys are thinking about seeing clients do as they maybe need to adjust to the, I mean, they had to adjust to kind of the pandemic world and now, is it the post pandemic world? And if so, what do they need to do? Thoughts on that Vikas?

Vikas Bhambri: (18:59)
Yeah. I actually heard this term the other day, so I’ll steal it. Somebody was alluding to this as the vaccine economy, the next phase. So I’ll steal that one. And so here’s what I would say there. I think what customer experience leaders are going to have to identify, they certainly went through and we talked about this, Gabe, you and I, 12 months ago, the biggest kind of stress test that the customer experience industry has faced in forever. Which was this high volume, this surge of inquiries, the staff being in disarray, going to remote work, et cetera. So they really got the crap kicked out of them. And I, fortunately, so many people were able to make smart decisions, partnering with different technology providers and really being able to address it and come out of it.

Vikas Bhambri: (19:54)
The question then is now, what learnings do you take from that experience and continue to invest in and adopt? And like I said, AI slash chat bots might be one area, right? Also the agent infrastructure, right? Oh, wait a minute. Remote from, remote work worked in some cases. In some cases, it didn’t. There were certain policy decisions. I think brands were much more forgiving of consumers. Does that continue to stay? So I think there’s a lot of those things that people are going to take, a lot of experiences. And then the question is going forward, because what is the consumer mindset now, coming out of it? And what are they going to expect of brands, is going to be extremely interesting to watch and observe, and actually be a part of, because I think consumers and particularly depending on where you are in the globe. So as much as I think it’s a very US-centric world to talk about the vaccine economy, because there’s large parts of the global population that are still knee-deep in it. So I think brands are going to also have to be very sensitive to that and also how they go out there and talk about their services and offerings, especially global brands. If you’re an Uber as an example, or somebody like that, you have to be, once again, think globally – act locally. And I think that’s going to be very important as they move forward.

Gabe Larsen: (21:20)
Yeah. There is a lot to learn. I think people, I mean, it was long enough. If it would’ve just been a couple of months, I think maybe we wouldn’t have been forced to kind of change to adopt and learn. But I think a lot of us were forced to learn and there are hopefully some good things coming out. Sophie, thoughts on this? How are you kind of seeing this play out?

Sophie Vu: (21:36)
Yeah. I mean, I had a different perspective. I agree, it’s the vaccine economy, but I like to say there’s also, re-entry anxiety that’s happening. How do you operate in this world? Like, what are the rules? People are still debating whether mask or no mask. And, but I think one thing that’s accelerated is globalization of companies and of people, and you have people moving everywhere in the world that you can live anywhere and be able to interact with brands, people, your company, your employers. And so I think it’s really about thinking about people as a whole and their skillset and their values and less about where they come from and what language they speak. Focusing on that expertise, and I think that’s something that is encouraging, I think. Honestly.

Gabe Larsen: (22:28)
That’s a valid point. Yeah. That re-entry, what’d you call it re-entry –

Sophie Vu: (22:34)
Anxiety.

Gabe Larsen: (22:36)
I think it’s interesting. This is, I’ll try not to go into any political realm here.

Vikas Bhambri: (22:46)
We’d rather you didn’t, Gabe.

Gabe Larsen: (22:46)
Politics, but yeah. There are a lot of different perspectives, I think on how this is going to move forward. Some people want the vaccine, some people don’t, some people have the vaccine and don’t want to come in unless this is in and they don’t, some people want to stay home. And I mean, I’ve been hearing a lot. I know some people are very comfortable talking about their medical, like they’re getting vaccine. Some people are like, I don’t want to actually be asked that. So do they, are they going to shop more or are we still going to still see the online stuff? Being able to adjust to that and for your business to adapt to it quickly, I think is probably right. I think here, I think you’re definitely on to something Sophie.

Sophie Vu: (23:23)
Hybrid. Like the same thing, you’re gonna, you got an offer to go, not just in the room and dining anymore. You got to, your customer has evolved. It’s very multifaceted, right? And so you get one channel, even physical and digital now. You got to navigate these new environments that we’re in.

Gabe Larsen: (23:46)
Yeah. And I think that I like that word hybrid. I think people, companies, and this is across the gamut, I think going extreme in one way, like pushing all your people back to work or trying to just be an in-person restaurant, like, how do you do that hybrid? How do you match the world where they are, almost like the conversation we had about channels? I think the people who go extremes are probably going to run into some, they may run into some problems. So, awesome. Well, let’s wrap. Talked about a lot of different concepts, loved language ops. Thanks for introducing that, Sophie. I think you guys are onto something very special there. Sounds like an interesting study. And I want to hear, I want to see if we can end with that maybe as a call to action and get a link out to people. And then we talked a little bit about the current state of the market. What’s that one piece of advice you’d leave for CX leaders just trying to make it now? Summarize or one thing you’d leave with them. Sophie, can I start with you? Thoughts on that?

Sophie Vu: (24:40)
Sure. I think it’s not, I think it’s, understanding that AI is not Rocket Man or Iron Man, sorry Gabe. But it is approachable. It is something that can be applied very concretely. And that is what we’re trying to do with Language Operations and the Unbabel platform. But I think it’s trying new things, being comfortable that you’re not going to solve everything right away and that you can take incremental steps. And then you have a lot of people thinking about these things. And so for me, it’s about exploring these things and thinking about the customer. And when you think about the customer, it’s that you want to be open to new ideas because they’re ever changing. There’s not one monolith of a customer. So –

Gabe Larsen: (25:26)
I like that. That’s definitely coming out more and more of this kind of customer that they’re going to be different. Vikas, what’s your kind of closing take?

Vikas Bhambri: (25:33)
I think one of the things that we’ve experienced over the last 12, 15 months at various stages across the globe as this pandemic has kind of gone all over the place is the shifting in different economies. And I think any CEO or VP of e-commerce is going to really want to put the foot on their gas in terms of globalization sooner rather than later. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a two-year-old cosmetics brand that’s just coming into market or a retailer, or if you’re somebody who’s been around for ten years or older, right? Somebody’s going to really want to expedite that global penetration from a consumer acquisition standpoint. What obviously that creates for a CX leader is you have to be able to move fast and moving fast no longer has to be about bodies.

Vikas Bhambri: (26:26)
It doesn’t mean that you then need to go and scale your operations up exponentially. You don’t need to go and bring in BPO’s all over the globe to support that global alignment. And it doesn’t mean you need to serve people in your language and your local language, right? Whether that be English, French, Spanish, et cetera. So to me, that’s where my kind of take away is, language is no longer a barrier to entry. And I think, with technologies and Unbabel kind of leading the way here, I think that creates exciting opportunities for CX leaders to be able to focus on the business process and the customer experience and not worry about getting resources in different locales. And that’s pretty exciting because, you know this Gabe, we’ve built a scaling company over the last four years. We spend a lot of time just hiring people and as a CX leader, not having to do that and focusing on the process and the experience, it is a dramatic game changer from how we previously operated.

Gabe Larsen: (27:29)
No, I think that’s going to be the globalization of all companies – that the playing field has been so much leveled with the kind of the e-commerce movement, et cetera. I think you’re going to continue to see that. So, Sophie, if we can kind of end, again, you touched on a little bit of this research report, and I wanted to flash this just real quick. Because I liked your answer as you were ending there on this AI and how Unbabel is thinking through some of that. If somebody wanted to learn just a little more about this, your view on AI, a little more about this research, is there a place you could direct them or where would we go to find that?

Sophie Vu: (28:06)
Yeah. So I hope there’s some type of digital linkage and in posting comments, but I always want to show a visual because I think we always speak in platitudes and generalizations around AI. And I just wanted to be really detailed and concrete about how we use AI in the sense that it’s again, not rocket science, but close to it. But applied in a very concrete and applicable way. And so wherever you see those red arrows, it’s kind of where we think about where we’re applying AI, right? So pre-processing anonymization of the data that we’re getting, cleaning it and sorting it. We apply that there, obviously with machine translation, the quality estimation, which is basically this message, a certain quality to then be sent and shared, and then incorporating that into working with our humans. The translator community. And so this loop is basically the core of what Unbabel does to enable near real-time translations. But yeah, we have a lot of documentation and research about it, but I think it’s just helping people get over the fear of what AI is and how they can use it is what, is one of my –

Gabe Larsen: (29:19)
It makes a big difference. Absolutely. So we will. I’d like this, it’s nice sometimes to just break it down a little more simply to your point. So we’ll get the link. And the LinkedIn here, you guys, so you can access that research study. Some real great material as Sophie alluded to at the beginning. So we’ll wrap with that. So Sophie, thanks so much for joining. Vikas, thanks so much for joining as always. And for the audience, we’ll let you have a fantastic day. Have a great one, everybody.

Vikas Bhambri: (30:04)
Thank you all.

Sophie Vu: (30:05)
Thank you.

Vikas Bhambri: (30:05)
Pleasure meeting you, Sophie.

Sophie Vu: (30:05)
Likewise Vikas. Bye Gabe.

Exit Voice: (30:13)
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